Azara Blog: Eating too much red meat correlated with breast cancer

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Date published: 2006/11/14

The BBC says:

Eating large amounts of red meat may double young women's breast cancer risk, a study suggests.

US researchers writing in Archives of Internal Medicine looked at over 90,000 pre-menopausal women.

Having one-and-a-half servings of red meat per day almost doubled the risk of hormone receptor-positive breast cancer compared to three or fewer per week.
Writing in Archives of Internal Medicine, the researchers led by Dr Eunyoung Cho, said: "Several biological mechanisms may explain the positive association between red meat intake and hormone receptor-positive breast cancer risk.

They say cooked and processed red meats have been shown to contain cancer-causing chemicals such as heterocyclic amines which are created during the cooking of red meat.

A second potential link is the growth hormones which are given to cattle in the US, although not in Europe.

The researchers also say red meat is a source of heme iron, which previous research has shown fuels the growth of oestrogen-induced tumours.

Dr Cho's team added: "Given that most of the risk factors for breast cancer are not easily modifiable, these findings have potential public health implications in preventing breast cancer and should be evaluated further."
And Maria Leadbeater, nurse specialist at Breast Cancer Care, added: "To date we are still a long way off fully determining the many and complex root causes of this disease and it is an area for further research.

"Further studies will need to be done to fully establish the exact nature of any link between a diet high in red meat and breast cancer.

"The benefits of eating a healthy and varied diet are well established and the biggest risk factors for breast cancer remain gender and increasing age."

Well the last comments say it all. There seems to be an unfortunate tendency these days to do health studies by looking at correlations between things that are considered bad (by the chattering classes), such as red meat, and diseases, such as cancer. Keep going until you find a correlation and then write an article implying there must be a causation. And of course the media (run by the chattering classes) is happy to go along with this claim, witness the first sentence in the article. But correlation is not causation. Of course here there might well be a causation and the researchers at least give plausible (and well known) reasons why this must be the case. But is there a real problem even if there is a causation? Everybody knows that you should eat everything and anything in moderation. And the researchers have only looked at one thing in isolation. There are no doubt health benefits from eating (some) meat. But that issue is completely ignored here. And the only way to do this study properly is to take two random groups of women and insist that one group eat too much meat and the other less, and see what happens. But that kind of study would never be done. It is just too easy to find and publicise correlations, so why do science properly?

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